The school day was just beginning Thursday when Nene Shelton got a troubling text from her 14-year-old son.
“Mom I’m scared. They have us barricaded,” read the text from her son, a freshman at Evanston Township High School. That was all, and her son didn’t answer her repeated texts and calls.
It was only after she rushed to the high school that she found out what had happened: The school was placed on lockdown and eight students were detained after two handguns were found.
No injuries were reported, but dozens of parents were left waiting for hours before they could see their children and take them home.
The incident unfolded after a school resource officer was alerted about students smoking marijuana in a bathroom around 9:30 a.m., Evanston Police Commander Ryan Glew said at a news conference near the school.
The officer detained two students in the bathroom, and an investigation led to the recovery of two handguns, Glew said. The school was placed on lockdown shortly afterward.
Six other students were in the bathroom at the time and they were also detained, Glew said. The lockdown was lifted and students were dismissed by 1 p.m.
Shelton, a special needs teacher in Skokie, said the year has been tough for kids in Evanston, with many peers lost to gun violence. “We don’t really deal with that up here, so this is really a strain on the community.”
When she couldn’t reach her son, she sent him a text telling him to “stay safe, stay calm, don’t panic, because we don’t need you to panic in a situation like this. When you panic you don’t think clearly.”
As she ran up to the school, she was crying and embraced a friend who is also a parent. Their sons are friends and play football together.
“Next week was supposed to be the last week, but I think today will be his last day until the new year,” said Shelton, 33. “I have to make sure he’s okay mentally.”
Lashandra Smith-Rayfield, a parent of twins who are juniors, a boy and a girl, questioned the lack of communication during the lockdown.
When she first heard about it, Smith-Rayfield couldn’t get a lot of information from the high school’s website or Evanston police so she reached out to her kids.
She called her daughter, who answered the phone but whispered, “I can’t talk, I have to text you,” prompting Smith-Rayfield to jump in her car and go to the school.
Her imagination started running when she showed up and saw barricades and officers armed with rifles entering the school. Smith-Rayfield said she understood the situation was complicated but wished there was a better way to keep parents informed.
“All of us parents outside, all we’re thinking of is the worst because we have nothing to counter it,” she said. “There has to be some type of middle ground between wanting to be patient and get the information one hundred percent correct and just letting parents know that this is what’s going on.”
Thankfully, she said, she was able to speak to her children who told her they were scared and uneasy but never felt like their lives were in danger.
“They’re fine. I’m not,” she said. “They say they’re safe, they’re with adults, but I’m taking them home immediately.”